January 31, 2013 § 121 Comments
I am in the final stages before releasing my memoir, and for a few weeks there, I dealt with a paralyzing fear. All I could think about are the attacks people will make on my character (though I’ve been attacked by readers before, on numerous occasions). Or the ways in which certain people in the book will feel misrepresented or insulted (though I did my best to tell my story as it actually happened).
I listened to my dad telling stories about my sister and I over family dinner, and realized how unique each of our stories and perceptions really are. He had no recollection of what we were really going through at different stages of our lives. A bitter drink turned sweet with distance. In fact, everyone from my youth has little idea of the double life I lived, now captured in my book.
“The risk is fearsome: in making your real work you hand the audience the power to deny the understanding you seek; you hand them the power to say, “you’re not like us; you’re weird; you’re crazy (Bayles, Orland, 39).”
In all truth, I prefer people that I don’t know at all to read my work, rather than people who know me. It’s okay for a stranger to not like it, or not get it, but when it’s your friend, it means that they don’t really get you at all.
In the midst of my publishing fear phase, a friend leant me the book “Art & Fear – Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking”. As soon as I began reading it, my fear subsided. I was able to fully focus again on the process of making art, rather than fearing the result of my art. And I remembered how amazing it is to be where I am at, and see that the creation of this book all happened through mad stubborn persistence, diligence, pain, tears, upheaval, countless rewrites, and that fleeting feeling of triumph.
“Basically, those who continue to make art are those who have learned how to continue – or more precisely, have learned how to not quit (Bayles, Orland, 9).”
In the beginning, I imagined I would write a novel. My boyfriend at the time so fascinated me that I had to capture him with words. I thought it would just be a story of him, but it grew and grew into a whole community. How I got there, what I was searching for, and how it all ended up. In the end, it was not really about him or them at all. It was about me.
I thought it would be finished in 1-2 years. It would be published by a major with a huge book advance, become a best seller, and I would receive a movie deal within the year (how wonderful it is to be naïve and clueless). As I slugged away at horrible jobs that paid practically nothing, this image of the victorious author got me through the worst.
Then there was the issue, that in my twenties I partied so hard and lived so much to the fullest (which makes for much of my subject matter), that it was hard to find time and a morning without a hangover to write. But no matter. I still lugged my computer to the coffee shop when I could, on my one day off from work a week. Eventually, even in the early morning hours.
“To the artist, art is a verb (Bayles, Orland, 90).”
Bit by bit the pieces grew organically, and came to fit together. The book started as a third person novel, then a novel in the 1st person, then with voices of two other characters thrown in. Finally, three years ago, I was able to find the courage to admit that it is a memoir. But I would not have had the guts to say what I did, if it hadn’t started out as fiction. I also wouldn’t have come to know the other characters so well without that extra exploration. Did I mention that I began writing this book in 2002?
“The artists life is frustrating not because the passage is slow, but because he imagines it to be fast (Bayle, Orland, 17).”
It still amazes me that I have not given up. But on the other hand, it doesn’t amaze me at all, because I had no other choice. I couldn’t release it from my brain until it was all written down. And when it was finally done, it lifted like magic, and I was free of it.
I am at an age now, where the idealism begins to fade away. I’ve watched plenty of friends give up their craft for stability. Life is hard. Most artists don’t survive as artists once they leave the supportive community of school. After that, it’s just you and your art, and good luck getting people to care about what you do. Your friends are not necessarily your fans.
Facing the fact that my book will be available to the public, I wonder how my life will change. I will do everything I can to see that it’s successful, but there is the fear that it won’t sell. I won’t know until I take that risk. And whatever happens, it will still be a foundation that I can build from.
Years ago, a friend of mine read several chapters. Paul was a young techie nerd, who was bored with life, and struggling to find social skills. He kept talking to me about one of the main characters: a binging, partying, player who puts on a debonair act. He became obsessed with this guy. It didn’t take long before he was turning into him.
Suddenly, Paul was out every single night, getting wasted, and hounding women wherever he went. In a bizarre turn of events, he married an older woman within three months of meeting her. But he continued to go out every night, and slurred to me that he wasn’t sure how he’d gotten sucked into the institution.
At one point, he had been my best friend. But soon, it was too embarrassing to go anywhere with him. He was rude to bartenders who were my friends. He was loud and obnoxious, trying to see how many curse words he could fit into one sentence. He went from being madly intelligent and witty, to talking in circles without making any sense. It was like watching Truman Capote’s downfall.
Was it the book? Or was it because he also had feelings for me? Or maybe, I was not responsible at all, and he was just on that course looking for an avenue to go down. I don’t know. But it was a disturbing realization that the book might be a little dangerous for the slightly unstable.
“Artmaking grants access to worlds that may be dangerous, sacred, forbidden, seductive, or all of the above. It grants access to worlds you may otherwise never fully engage (Bayle, Orland, 108).”
I hope that my memoir shows that the world is never exactly as we are told it is, and it is up to each of us to find out for ourselves. Every person has the right to be an adventurer, an explorer of life. To Think for themselves.
Of course, it is dangerous to really live. To take chances, and be open to people who are different from ourselves. But it’s the only way to find out who we really are. If we live in fear, we’ll remain in a bubble where nothing really happens, and nothing can really grow.
“Insist that the world must always remain x, and x is indeed exactly what you’ll get (Bayles, Orland, 111-112).”
I am excited, that soon, with the book release, my life will open up to new possibilities. It will be out there, speaking for me, doing the work that I put into it for a decade of my life. I will keep you all updated when it is released.
Do any of you have book release experiences to share? Was it uplifting? Did it feel like a let down? Did it open your life up to new things? Please share.
November 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
““You don’t really want to be a poet. First of all, if you’re a woman, you have to be three times as good as any of the men. Secondly, you have to fuck everyone. And thirdly, you have to be dead.” – a male poet, in conversation (Jong, 43)”
I recommend the poem that follows in Erica Jong’s book of poems, Fruits and Vegetables, first published in 1968.
The other day a photographer, James Arzente, came to my apartment to photograph me for a book he’s doing on artists and writers. After a long email dialogue, we came up with a concept, and piled all of the physical remains of what it took to write my memoir (piles of notepads filled with chicken scratch, journals, photographs, music, books, costumes, pens, mementos, and postcards) onto the kitchen table. The photographer wanted to get at what’s inside my head, and I pulled out as much physical evidence as I could possibly find, but it wasn’t even the half of it.
He pried further and further to figure out what makes me tick. On one hand, it made me understand the intensity of what it must feel like to be a celebrity. On the other, I was exhausted by it, and exhausted of being the sole focus. I grew sick of myself, ill with the knowledge of my current unsatisfactory state.
“You will never really be understood,” he said, “And you have to be okay with that.”
We talked about what it means to be a woman and a writer. I want to celebrate my womanhood, but being female has always felt like a strike against me. I’m working through it, towards a love and acceptance of my own gender. It’s difficult when I’ve been attacked for being a woman, not only by strangers, but also by friends and lovers. My healing comes from strong female role models, who repair me through their wisdom and our shared stories.
“Who do you feel you are on the inside?” James asked me.
“I feel like an outlaw. I feel like I’m fighting against the roles prescribed for me by others. I feel invisible. I’m in a chrysalis phase, and working non-stop to create my body of work. It’s killing me that my book isn’t out there yet, when I have so much more to give. I’m waiting for recognition, when in my mind, I am already known for what I do. In reality, I’m a drifter that no one really knows all that well.”
The truth is, I feel more like a Hunter S. Thompson, a Henry Miller, a Charles Bukowski, a Norman Mailer than a woman. None of my heroes understood women at all, and didn’t care to understand. But women inspired their stories. They almost had an unhealthy worship of the women that castrated them in a sense. Scared to death of the great goddess that might reach up and snuff them out.
Right now, at the Seattle Art Museum, the Elles exhibit of twentieth century women artists, is here from the Pompidou in Paris. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion about the show. Some are angry over the feeling that women’s art is segregated. Some felt it was too political. Some were disturbed by the empty pockets of history, where women really weren’t allowed to fully partake, as in the Bauhaus movement.
For me, I found the exhibit to be enormously invigorating, and at times disturbing. Throughout history, women have been told that their life should be a sacrifice for the family. In much of the art, I found that same sense of sacrifice, but it was an angry outcry against prescribed roles. A gigantic woven bee hive/cocoon – enormous and frightening, like death hanging from a hook in the ceiling. A film of a naked carefree woman on the beach, hula hooping with barbed wire, each turn ripping her abdomen to shreds. Marina Abramavic’s performance piece, “I must be beautiful, I must be beautiful, art must be beautiful,” as she rips at her scalp with a brush.
Grouping all of this art together is enormously satisfying and powerful. It tells a narrative, fighting to redefine what it means to be a woman, determined to have equality and a voice.
“To create is an act of liberation and every day this need for liberation comes back to me.” – Louise Bourgeois
I think as well, it would be impossible for the art to not be political. In an article by Robin Held in City Arts Magazine she states, “Only 5 percent of the art on display in U.S. museums is made by women, although 51 percent of U.S. visual artists today are women.” And this is the current state of the art world. Just today I walked through the art section at a bookstore, and the only female artist I saw on the shelves, was Georgia O’Keefe. I never even noticed the disparity before.
All this week, I have been enmeshed in talks with women artists on how they feel about the exhibit, and how they feel about their role in art today. The women of the sixties and seventies had a lot of wisdom and history to offer. One woman spoke of how she couldn’t sign her real name to a piece, because if they knew she was a woman, she wouldn’t get a show. She used her initials instead. To be a success, she had to deny the feminine. But now, because of political battles that have been won, she is free to sign her real name, and wears her womanhood like a badge of honor.
Strikingly, the women of my generation said that they don’t identify as women. One felt that anything written before 1980 was a “dinosaur text.” They were firmly planted in the here and now, living dangerously outside the context of history. I sensed abhorrence within them of their femaleness. The same abhorrence that existed in society in the 1950’s, when my mother was raised to think that being a woman made her unclean – doomed to keep cleaning, just to make up for it. Back then, household appliances were sold as devices to cure psychological ailments.
Young women artists want to shed their femaleness like a dead skin. And then they are shocked when those issues subconsciously come out in their art. One was disturbed when people found the feminine in her art. It made her angry. She might clothe herself with male-dominated activities to feel stronger, but she is still facing the unavoidable fact of her existence as a woman.
This same aversion to the female, I believe, has created a large disconnect among young women. I know I am at a difficult stage of life for female friendships – babies, work, lack of money, flakiness, geographical distance. But even so, all of the women I know look at each other with a deep sense of mistrust until proven otherwise. I am just as guilty as everyone else, and I’ve practically given up. Yet when I do find that closeness with other women, I find my confidence blossoms.
Women seem to feel sick of the issue of equality, and what that means. The issue has always been there, and it’s not going away anytime soon. It’s a constant struggle. And if we let go of it, there are plenty of men waiting in the wings to take back their control over our bodies. If your own body makes you ill, and you want to avoid it, then why not hand over the control?
In the young women, I saw myself, and I didn’t like what I saw. This week has changed me. I want to embrace who I am within this body within this world. But I also demand that society embrace my mind even more than the visual elements that I might express. Yes, I am a woman, but first and foremost, I am a human being.
November 1, 2012 § Leave a comment
You may remember that I wrote a post a while back about making my living as an Art Model. I’ve been modeling now for the past eighteen months, and I actually receive more work than I can handle. It’s strange that all of my previous jobs gave me anxiety, but for some reason being naked on a stage in front of twenty people totally relaxes me. I feel safe up there, in the artist’s appreciation and quiet meditation on the human form.
Last Sunday night I went to my first studio as an artist. I actually felt nervous to be crossing over to the other side. Drawing was an awkward struggle, and I wanted to loosen up my hand. The model was beautiful, and it was torture attempting to draw her perfect lines. She is much shorter and curvier than I am, so it was difficult for me to get her proportions just right. But now, I am hooked.
In high school and early college, I thought that I would be an artist. I was selling paintings and winning contests, and the head of the art department was upset when I decided not to major in art. I thought the fashion business could be a more dependable income, but the industry wasn’t for me. Instead, writing chose me, and since college, I’ve worked to support my craft. But I’ve never stopped doing little art projects here and there.
As an Art Model, I rarely meet people outside of the art world that can really comprehend what I do. The job makes my family slightly uncomfortable, and they don’t want to see the art that comes out of my collaboration with the artist, at least not the figure studies. My dad even just asked me, “Are you still doing that?” This after I told him that I’m booked solid through January.
At a party last summer I told an acquaintance that figure artists are often able to sell their work to wineries since wineries want to be aligned with European tastes. The woman replied, “Oh great, then your friends will see you naked!”
If that bothered me, I wouldn’t be doing this. Most funny, is that she tends to hang out with the sex-positive crowd, and you would think she would be more relaxed.
My liberal friend from my conservative college days responded by saying, “Oh, I see you’re still objectifying yourself.”
It gave me meditation on the word ‘objectify’ – a word that does not take place within, but without, a choice of the viewer, and not the viewed.
Definition of OBJECTIFY
2: to give expression to (as an abstract notion, feeling, or ideal) in a form that can be experienced by others <it is the essence of the fairy tale to objectify differing facets of the child’s emotional experience — John Updike>
I could never objectify myself since it would be impossible to experience my own self as an object. I am within, not without. It is the viewer’s benefit to see the human form as an object. In their study they can come to a greater understanding of our own structure. Not just physically, but spiritually, emotionally, mentally.
People also don’t realize I actually make money as an Art Model. They see it as a funny little hobby. They always assume that because I’m a wife without a traditional job, I’m just gadding about, living off my husband’s income. Besides food and housing, we don’t share our money. Modeling pays my bills.
I love being an Art Model for the feeling of collaboration. I love that I see it from both angles as a model and an artist. I love the unknown – the moments where an artist’s work blows me away or surprises me, or when they see a person that I don’t look like at all.
“’Thereness’ follows nothingness. It is impossible to premeditate. It is to do with the collaboration of the sitter, … but also to do with the disappearance of the sitter the moment the image emerges (Berger, 78).”
In John Berger’s book “The Shape of a Pocket,” he meditates on art and different artists throughout history. But it was his discussion on the mystery of the model that most fascinated me, whether the model is a building, an object, or a person.
“The ‘sitter’ is at first here and now. Then she disappears and (sometimes) comes back there, inseparable from every mark on the painting.
After she has ‘disappeared’ a drawing or two are the only clues about where she may have gone. And of course, sometimes they’re not enough, and she never comes back (Berger, 80-81).”
An artist I work for said that she felt invisible when she stopped modeling. I think I began modeling for the same exact reason. I can’t say that now I feel seen, because much of what there is to see is within. Sometimes people see that, sometimes they don’t. But I see my body differently than I did before. There is no shame in it, no discomfort. I see it as an instrument. I train it to be strong in the pose. I sink into the physical pain for long periods of time, and travel through my thoughts. Then eventually I come back again, and slip into my robe.
Works of art stay within my mind for years. If I love them, I never forget them. Sometimes I even think about how I can recreate them. I dream about the works. They become a part of my subconciousness. They can even change my life. These images go way beyond what anyone in the media can toss up on us.
“… the media surround people with faces. The faces harangue ceaselessly by provoking envy, new appetites, ambition or, occasionally, pity combined with a sense of impotence (Berger, 58).”
Art doesn’t speak as much as it feels, unless, of course, it’s propaganda.
Watching those who are adept with the charcoal, capturing every single muscle as though they have been trained by Leonardo Da Vinci, gives me strength to go on feeling clumsy and awkward until there is some kind of breakthrough.
“Real drawing is a constant question, is a clumsiness, which is a form of hospitality towards what is being drawn. And, such hospitality once offered, the collaboration may sometimes begin (Berger, 75).”
It is a pleasure to be clumsy as an artist, and graceful as a model. The two balance each other out.
My problem with past jobs was the same exact problem with the media. I always felt harangued, pitied, made to feel envious, impotent. But as an Art Model, I can just be. No one is asking more of me than my perfect stillness. While the timer is ticking, I solve all of my problems, envision plans, come up with titles and new writing ideas, and sometimes let my emotions fall into a song playing on the stereo. While somewhere off in the distance, artists struggle along over the lines of my body and the colors of my form.
November 17, 2011 § Leave a comment
In my evolution of what I like to call “Gypsy Jobs” my latest addition is working as a model for the art school up the hill. I have always had a fascination with Bohemian Paris, artists and their muses, Kiki de Montparnasse. So after several months of thinking about it, I finally brought in my application.
On my first day I had two back-to-back three-hour classes. Bright and early that morning, when I usually wake up, I began with an open studio, monitored by a student. There is always that initial funny feeling when you first take off your robe, like here goes nothing. They started with 10 one minute poses, then 5 ten minute poses, and 2 twenty minute poses. During the longer poses I began to hallucinate. I was staring at a speck on the blanket covering the stage. The speck started to move. I was convinced it had come to life as a bug. In the next class, I stared out the window at a tree and soon I was a heron flying through the large open center of its branches.
I didn’t feel awkward once I was on the stage, only when I was waiting to go on. The pain however was another thing. By the end of twenty minutes, even in a basic standing pose, my feet fell asleep and my legs felt stuck when I was finally able to move. I realized you can’t rest your weight on one straight leg or else you’ll hyperextend and cause an injury. Even though it’s less striking, I’ve learned to always keep both knees slightly bent.
I’ve gotten a lot of compliments since then on my stillness as a model. Having an active mind saves me. I focus on a point, do breathing-exercises to work through the pain, and then distract myself by thinking of interesting memories or ideas for my writing. Now that I model two to four times a week, it feels completely natural, and I forget that I’m not wearing any clothes. It actually feels cozy.
Last week at a long pose session I walked through the class to see their interpretations. In the drawings my weight ranged from 110 to 160. One woman was drawn to the more Rubenesque, and said she tends to draw what she is working with, as in her own body type. The men drew me much thinner than the women. I thought of our differing perceptions – how women put themselves in the females position, and men see women with rose-colored glasses.
The experience of posing got me thinking about how we interpret nudity in our society. Years ago my friend took two of us girls to a nude beach in New Jersey. It was a gorgeous place. I found it beautiful that people of all ages, shapes, and sizes were completely out there. I swam topless and hung out with an older guy in the waves, having fun. Later on at a restaurant I saw him again with his clothes on and had to look twice. He looked like a Senator or an Investment Banker, though I’d had no way to interpret him without his clothes. Now we were back in our hierarchies and I wanted to go back to the beach where we were all equals.
I had a phase when I lived in Hoboken, where I’d drink so much gin I became inspired to take off all my clothes in the confines of my apartment with friends. I guess I liked the feeling of absolute freedom. But the guys interpreted it to mean that I was ready to go. Climb on in or take a number and come back another day. I look back on my own spontaneity in amazement – a desperate need for an adrenaline rush. And it is interesting how nudity outside of the confines of an art class, a nude beach or a hospital is interpreted as sexual. But nudity is much more nuanced than that. Nudity also brings to mind our own mortality, our equality as human beings, the mystery of existence, anatomy, art, beauty, the poetry of motion and form.
Friends and family may not quite understand my job or how I can feel comfortable without clothes. My mother still asks my husband, “Are you okay with this?” But for the first time in years I am enjoying a job and looking forward to going to work. I get to learn more about something I love – art, and be in an academic environment with enormously talented people. I take romantic walks afterwards, feeling poetic, drinking coffee and eating crepes with enough time left in the day to write for a while before dinner. When I’m not at the school, I’m thinking about the next time I get to be there, creating new poses for the students.
It’s an instance where life led me to two books. The Nude Female Figure and The Nude Figure by Mark Edward Smith. They are both visual references for the artist working without a model. I am learning the range of the human form, thinking of ways to inspire the artists. And now, I find myself returning to the place where I began – painting and drawing figures just as I did when I was a kid and was obsessed with fashion illustration and portraiture.
Artists of all ages are honored to be able to work from a live model and respect the opportunity. I get the sense that they are grateful for the model’s bravery. And in the stillness of a pose my mind is in motion, building ideas and images, undisturbed, in perfect meditation.
October 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
Last night I was driven to finish Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids, before going out to see Annie Clark aka St. Vincent play at the Neptune. The book’s ending left me sad and stoic, barely able to look forward to the show. But I was blown away by Annie’s performance. I never expected she would have the raw emotion of Patti Smith, gritty and truthful, losing herself in a cover of an obscure punk band. We need more of that energy out there – real poets who internalize the pain of the world and magically transform it into beautiful art.
In the book Patti shares the development of two struggling artists. She leaves home and moves to New York with nothing, but when she gets there, she finds Robert Mapplethorpe. All they have is their dreams, but as they become devoted to each other they manage to survive and build a life on their combined skills. Their dedication survives Mapplethorpe coming to terms with his homosexuality, and their differing lifestyles as Robert climbs up into high society and Patti chooses the raw environs of rock’n’roll. They remain until his death interchangeable artist and muse.
Patti Smith to me is synonymous with CBGB’s. New York lost one more inch of its soul when CBGB’s closed and turned into a trendy John Varvatos boutique. The boutique celebrates the grit and history of the venue without any of the grit left behind. Now it’s all shiny and new with expensive clothes to give you that ‘rock star look.’ The dressing room is built over the stairway that once led to the most disgusting bathroom, magnificent in its filth. Before it closed, the entire venue was a mutation, a continuing saga of live music.
I was fortunate enough to perform there just weeks before CB’s closed. It was before I began turning poems into music for the mandolin. I was belly dancing for a percussion group, though with the addition of a keyboardist, our set was transforming into a jazz aural landscape. I always danced barefoot, but the guys in the bands we came with thought the stage was too disgusting. It had layers and layers of shit on the floor, built up over time. Blood, sweat, broken bottles, sticky boos and who knows what else. “I hope you got a tetanus shot.”
I loved experiencing the energy of the bands that had been on each stage, and felt that my bare feet brought me closer to those that had passed before. Despite everyone’s fears, CBGB’s ended up being the greatest bare foot stage experience. As I danced I felt Patti Smith, the Ramones, Lou Reed, Joan Jett, the Talking Heads, Blondie. It made me feel I could touch their success. As though after our set I would step off the stage, put on some shoes and walk in their footsteps. Surviving on hot dogs and lentils didn’t matter so much after that.
“I can’t believe I just performed on that stage,” I said to a guy at the bar.
“Well, you didn’t play an instrument!”
What an ass. I turned away from him and gave the bartender my drink ticket. Playing an instrument is easy in comparison to dancing onstage. Though I did not play music through my hands, my entire body was an instrument. Like visual sound, I was showing the audience how music moves. From then on our group performed one song where we all joined in a drum circle, building the beat into a crescendo that came tumbling to a halt right after it’s peak. It was a kick to surprise people as I sat down with the drum – no one could say I was just some fluff dancer.
In a review of our show at CB’s, the writer compared me to the last belly dancer he’d seen at the venue – a woman who stripped back in the seventies. He claimed my performance was G-rated in comparison, as though I was only there for his titillation. I felt misunderstood and interpreted as an objectified female. To top it off, after reading the review, the percussionist asked me to wear a skirt with some slits up the side. I was the lone belly dancer in a universe of men and their opinions. Despite all of that, every show was a new adventure that I enjoyed immensely. I bonded with many new people, and as my stage persona changed I went from being called “the belly dancer” to “Joan Baez.”
I no longer perform as a dancer or a musician because I lost the passion for it. Performing was not the same when I moved back to Seattle. I never felt a sense of community and support. Instead of people working together to create something amazing, it is every man for himself. My skin isn’t thick enough to withstand all the empty venues and people who don’t give a shit about the music. At my very last gig, I got in a fight with the musician I was sharing a bill with. He was determined to talk as loud as possible over my set and it was impossible to hear the music. Through years of being onstage, I never encountered a more offensive musician. And as I’ve gotten older, I have grown more sensitive and outspoken.
Instead, I like to remember the time I got up to play for a full house, and I saw two girls in the back who were about to leave. As I began to play, they turned around and were riveted by my song – a poem about the limits of love. They felt what I had written and they knew it for themselves. It was so intimate, as though there was no one else in the room. I gave them every word like drops of blood, and by the end there was a tear in my eye.
Being onstage gave me motivation, discipline, confidence. I learned to take my abilities much more seriously. Just like Patti, I didn’t know I would ever turn my poetry into music and sing on stage. But submitting to the flow of creativity, you release yourself to whatever will come.